Co­ffee theft returns as guard is killed

Farmers at Mutheru co¬ffee factory in Kandara where a guard was killed and co¬ffee worth Sh1 million stolen. [Wangechi Waithera/Mt Kenya Star]

Coffee farmers in Murang’a County want the government to control the number of millers, who have been licensed in the country. This followed a new series of thefts that have left farmers in debt worth millions.

The farmers have maintained that the thefts are orchestrated by coffee factories managers in collaboration with millers. They have accused factories officials of failing to heed the directive of security officers not to store the produce in their premises without informing the police.

In Thanga-ini coffee factory in Kigumo sub-county, farmers suspended three officials who they accused of working in cohorts with coffee thieves. The farmers said they are tired of losing their harvest worth of produce to thieves every season.

The factory has been attacked by coffee thieves 6 times, severely affecting their payments.

The farmers called for a meeting to discuss how to secure their coffee to avert the thefts. The factory’s chairman Hiram Mwaniki said farmers received a meager Sh20 per kilogram last year. The payments, he said, barely covered farmers’ expenses, leave alone the loans they take up as they wait for their pay.

“These series of events condemn farmers to a cycle of loans and poverty yet they work so hard to get good harvests,” he said, adding that it will take a long time for farmers to recover from the losses occasioned by the thefts.

He said thieves recently made away with 10 bags of coffee, striking the farmers’ last nerve and prompting them to take action. In the neighboring Kandara, a gang of thieves struck Mutheru coffee factory in the wee hours of the night.

When they left, the body of one of the four guards that were on duty that night lay lifeless, his hands tied in his back.

The guard lost his life after the robbers obstructed his nose as they gagged him, leaving him to choke to death. After tying up all the guards, the more than 20 robbers proceeded to the factory’s stores and stole 30 bags of grade 1 coffee.

They loaded the bags onto a lorry and left and by the time an alert was sent and farmers streamed into the factory, it was too late for the deceased.

The farmers could not hide their anguish after finding their stores empty and their guard murdered. They said it is now time for the government to take action and help guard the coffee to safeguard the lives of the guards and cushion them from thefts.

Macharia Mwangi, a farmer, said it will now become impossible for factories to get guards after such an incident. “They are now not only taking our coffee but also harming those we have employed. This has become dangerous and painful,” Macharia said.

Macharia said they toil hard in their farms to improve their production but all their efforts end up down the drain after their coffee is stolen.

Farmers are unable to educate their children or support their families and live in a constant state of poverty. He noted.

But if the millers are controlled, he said, it will bring to an end the incidences and restore sanity on the sector.

“The heightened competition between the between the millers fuels thefts as they try to improve their profit margins,” he said.

Macharia also noted that the robbers had three guns that they used to intimidate and assault the guards.

He said it is paramount for the police to find the guns before they are used to steal from other factories or cause more destruction.

The local Criminal Investigations Officer Richard Mwaura said the robbers made away with coffee worth Sh1 million.

Mwaura said the factories have been cautioned to seek protection after the harvesting season before the coffee is packed for transport to millers.

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Coffee farmers